When is Carnival (07.05.2018)
Observed in Primarily Caribbean and Latin American countries, as well as Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Mexico, and Brazil
Observed on During the two weeks before Lent
Observed by Christians, general public
Carnival is a public celebration, which combines elements of a street party and a circus. It is usually observed during a carnival season that begins two weeks before Lent, the traditional Christian fast before Easter. This festival is primarily a Roman Catholic tradition and, to a lesser degree, it is observed in Christian Orthodox communities as well. Protestants and non-Christians who avoid unrestrained festivities generally ignore these observances.
Carnival is known for its exuberance, color, creativity, and culture. Usually there are street dances and parades leading up to a grand finale. The processions feature colorful floats, and people in masks and outlandish costumes participate in the street dances and parades during Carnival.
The basic idea of Carnival is probably to enjoy one last bout of festivities, gaiety, and mirth before the onset of the somber 40-day period of Lent, which exhorts all faithful Christians to spend their days in austerity, abstinence, fasting, prayers, and penance. The official beginning of Lent is Ash Wednesday, the Wednesday immediately following Fat Tuesday (also called Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras in French). On this day the faithful have their foreheads marked with ashes in the shape of a cross in church, signifying that they belong to Christ, who died on a Cross. The name Fat Tuesday evolved from the custom of parading a fat ox through the streets of Paris on this day. The name Shrove Tuesday is derived from the practice of confessing one’s sins to a priest (also known as a shriver) and receiving absolution in preparation for the Lenten season.
Places particularly noted for elaborate Carnival celebrations include Maastricht and Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands; Cologne, Mainz, and Düsseldorf in Germany; Venice in Italy; Nice in France; Hasselt in Belgium; Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain; Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, São Paulo, Olinda, and Recife in Brazil; Pasto and Barranquilla in Colombia; Port-ofSpain in Trinidad; Santiago in Cuba; and New Orleans in the United States. In Mexico there are huge annual Carnival celebrations in Veracruz and Mazatlán, with street parades and the election of a Carnival queen. The Quebec City Carnival in Canada is a highly celebrated winter Carnival, which depends substantially on the amount of snowfall and intensity of the cold so that the ski trails are in good condition, and the numerous ice sculptures intact.
For this reason, the festival does not commemorate the lunar-based celebration but is, instead, established on the final days of January and first few days of February in the solar calendar. The Caribana of Toronto is Canada’s summer version of the Carnival.
The La Ceiba Carnival in Honduras is celebrated annually on the third Saturday of May and is the largest in Central America.
Origins and History
Carnival dates back to the old Greek spring celebration held in honor of the god of wine, Dionysus.
Later the Romans took up the festival as Bacchanalia, a feast held in honor of Bacchus, the Roman counterpart of Dionysus. It is sometimes claimed that the festival began with the Saturnalia (Saturn’s festival) and Lupercalia (a festival held on February 15 in honor of Faunus, the Roman god of fertility and forests). In the late Roman period, the celebrations of these festivals were characterized by unbridled freedom, mad revelry, and reckless fun; in one way they were a subversion of civil order and discipline.
Historians believe that this wild exuberance was carried over to the Carnival of today. Saturnalia was later transformed by the Roman Catholic Church into a festival that occurred in the period leading up to Ash Wednesday. As time passed, the Carnivals grew famous and spread rapidly across the Catholic countries in Europe. As the Spanish, French, and Portuguese began to move into the Americas, as well as other parts of the world, they took with them the celebration of Carnival.
Another source, particularly linked to Switzerland, also predates Christianity. In this instance Carnival has been linked to the onset of spring, and the primary purpose of the festival was driving away evil spirits. This was generally done by means of processions, in which the people wore grotesque, hideouslooking masks, made loud noises, and made “music” with whatever happened to be handy. Much later, the processions became observances dedicated to patron saints, the most prominent among them being the Virgin Mary and the local saints of each particular area, after which the local church was named.
In earlier times, Carnival generally began on January 6 and continued until Shrove Tuesday. Some believe that this period represents some sort of compromise that the Catholic Church had made with pagan celebrations and that Carnival was, in reality, a refurbished Roman Saturnalia. Rome has been the recognized headquarters of Carnival, and though many popes were not particularly fond of it, others are known to have been great patrons of Carnival.
Over the years, the meaning of Carnival has become as varied as its history. Once a religious observance, the festival has evolved into an annual celebration of life in many places. The most popular celebrations are the ones in Barbados (Crop Over), in the United States (Mardi Gras), in Trinidad (Trinidad Carnival), Toronto (Caribana), and in Brazil (Rio Carnival).
There are numerous theories pertaining to the origins of the name Carnival. The most widely accepted theory states that the name is derived from the Italian carnevale or carnovale, which literally translates as “to remove meat.” The name might also have originated from the Latin words carne, meaning “meat,” and vale, meaning “farewell,” thus “farewell to meat.” Yet another theory derives the name from the Latin phrase carrus navalis, some sort of cart in which the sacred images were carried during an annual procession organized in honor of the Greek god Apollo. Most commonly, the season started on Septuagesima, the third Sunday before Lent and the 70th day before Easter. This phase of festivities had its roots in the need to finish all remaining products of animal origin, like cheese, butter, and eggs, before the onset of the fasting season.
The Carnival celebration ends on Mardi Gras.